Gothic Era



Albrecht Durer
Gothic Art Map
Albrecht Durer
    Formative Years: The First Journeys, 1483-1494    
    First Trip to Italy, 1494-1495    
    Durer's Workshop in Nuremberg, 1495-1505    
    Second Trip to Italy, 1505-1507    
    Nuremberg, 1507-1520    
    Journey to the Netherlands, 1520-1521    
    Final Years in Nuremberg, 1521-1528    
    The Self-Portraits    
    Chronological Table    
    Exploration: Gothic Era  (Gothic and Early Renaissance)


The Self-Portraits

Durer had never participated, in a substantial way, in the vast production of altarpieces in vogue in the workshops of his contemporaries, including his master, Michael Wolgemut. Altar panels by him are rare, while his devotional images abound, especially the Madonnas. The most important part of his work is represented by his portraits.
No other artist of his time made as many self-portraits as Durer. In Italy, the first "autonomous" self-portrait—that is, unto itself—that we know of is by Leon Battista Alberti, which has only survived in a copy. One must also ask oneself if the portrait by Raphael in the Uffizi is really an autonomous self-portrait, or rather, if it has been modeled on the one in the School of Athens, where the Raphael figures together with Sodoma. Neither Leonardo nor Michelangelo is known to have done self-portraits on panels. As for the self-portraits of the German artists of that era, one cannot even comment. With Durer, we actually have two images he made of himself at thirteen: one silverpoint from 1484 and a miniature oil on parchment, dated 1484 with the inscription im 13. Iar was ich (I was like this at thirteen), which is probably the copy of a missing self-portrait.
Other portraits by him show him at twenty and at twenty-two: they are not official portraits, but introspective images, studies of his actual character and his own destiny, as shown by the clear difference between being melancholic and being ill.
Out of the paintings of self-portraits of which we are aware, three have survived: the self-portrait of 1493 "with sea holly" at the Louvre; the one "with gloves," of 1498 at the Prado; and the famous one en face of 1500, at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. How much importance Durer gave self-portraits as representing one's own personality is further demonstrated by the news surrounding the lost portrait: Vasari tells us that he saw it in Mantua, at the house of Giulio Romano, who had inherited it from Raphael, to whom, in turn, it had been given by Durer in exchange for the nude drawings for the Battle of Ostia in the "Stanze" in the Vatican. This exchange of different gifts clearly shows the difference between Nordic and Italian art regarding the value of the subject as an expression of the personality of the artist: for the one, the self-portrait; for the other, a nude study.
According to Vasari, the self-portrait of Durer was painted with watercolor on particularly delicate canvas, so that it could be observed both from the anterior and posterior side. It is an obvious display of true talent that, besides eternalizing the features of the artist, was to demonstrate his pictorial ability. It is presumed that Durer painted it between 1510 and 1515. Given that Raphael wanted to depict Durer, in the Eliodoro Stanza in the back sedan bearer of the pope, and supposing that it acted as a gift for a model, the date of this self-portrait can be narrowed to approximately 1514.



Self-Portrait at Thirteen Years Old


Self-Portrait at 13
Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna


Self-Portrait with a Bandage
Graphische Sammlung der Universitätsbibliothek, Erlangen


Studies of Self-Portrait, Hand and Pillow
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Self-Portrait in the Nude
c. 1505
Kunstsammlung, Weimar


Kunsthalle, Bremen


Self-Portrait as the Man of Sorrows
Kunsthalle, Bremen




Out of the 189 paintings listed in the complete catalog by Fedja Anzelewsky (1991), which includes the missing paintings, provided that they are documented by copies or by written works, only the pictorial works that are definitely, if not entirely, by Durer himself are presented here.
To these, more than a thousand drawings, about 350 woodcuts and around 130 engravings and etchings should be added. This would mean that the artist Diirer should not be understood or appreciated only through his painting. Let us not forget another important part of his work, which represents an exceptional artistic expression for his era: the watercolors, about sixty of which survive. If we also consider his numerous treatises, finished and unfinished, we will manage to grasp the importance of one of the most impressive artists of his time in all his complexity. Alongside, naturally, are Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. In Germany, furthermore, Durer is an exceptional figure, being the first artist to be interested in the theoretical problems of art.
He discovered and adopted new pictorial techniques, like that of the watercolor; he developed and brought graphic art to the peak of refinement, from a technical and compositional standpoint. He also elaborated some artistic concepts that Italian artists and scholars had proposed and outlined: more specifically, the geometrical construction of the Roman alphabet (see Letter A) and of the illustrated reconstruction, and subsequently elaborated the so-called screen, a kind of grid destined to grasp more precisely the reality of nature, which Alberti had proposed and described but never depicted.
Outside artistic circles, Durer enjoyed close relationships with humanists—in particular, Willibald Pirckheimer, his lifelong friend, who, having studied in Italy for six years, first at Padua and then at Pavia, introduced him to the world of the Florentine Neoplatonists. Durer owned a rich library, in which appeared works like the Hypnerotomachla Poliphili and Alberti's De pictura. He was an artist and a man of universal culture. At the same time, thanks to his manners of a "grand seigneur," his facility of speech, his charm, and his spirit in leading conversation, he certainly approached the ideal figure, as postulated by Baldassar Castiglione, of the "courtier." This is a position, however, he never actually had, unlike many of his Italian contemporaries. One can perhaps conclude, as Jacob Burckhardt affirms, that the characteristic of the Renaissance was the discovery of man and the universe, Durer, more than any on else, personifies it.


Construction of the Letter A


Draftsmann Draving a Vase
Construction by Leon Battista Alberti



Chronological Table


Albrecht Durer was born 23 May, the third of eighteen children, to the goldsmith Albrecht Durer and his wife, Barbara Holper. The Durer family—horse and cattle breeders—was originally from Ajtosfalva in Hungary. The German name and family coat of arms confirm this: Ajtos, in Hungarian, means "door," and a door lies open in the center of the Durerian coat of arms. "Door," in German is Tiir, and, in the old spelling, Thur; and Thurer was the first German name of the family, which was then changed to Durer. His father, also named Albrecht, left Gyula at a young age, where the family had moved (the grandfather was a goldsmith), and had gone through Germany and the Netherlands, finally settling down, at twenty-eight, in Nuremberg in 1455. Here, he entered the workshop of the goldsmith Hieronymus Holper, whose fifteen-year-old daughter, Barbara, he married 6 August 1467.
The master goldsmith Albrecht acquired, after his father-in-law's death, a house-workshop near Michael Wolgemut's workshop, and other important workshops which belonged to the cultural and artistic elite of Nuremberg.
The younger Albrecht entered his father's workshop to complete a three-year apprenticeship as a goldsmith.
Instead of continuing to work at his father's, he entered as an apprentice the workshop of the famous painter and woodcutter Michael Wolgemut, where he remained for another three-year apprenticeship.
As the family chronicle read, having finished this period and in accordance with the custom of apprentice-artisans, the younger Albrecht set out on 11 April auf Wanderschaft, and went to Col mar, Basel, and, toward the end of 1493, to Strasbourg.
In Mav, he returned to Nuremberg, where he took Agnes
Frey as his wife, 12 July. The plague broke out; in October, Durer left, and, going through Augsburg and Innsbruck, arrived in Venice.
In the spring, Durer returned to Nuremberg and started his own workshop.
The Venetian artist Jacobo de' Barbari settled in Nuremberg, the "counterfeiter" and "illuminist" of Maximilian I. Durer hoped to learn more about on proportion and perspective under him.
In February, Durer left again for Venice, which he then left for Rome in the late autumn of 1506, stopping on the way in Bologna and Florence. He returned to Venice at the beginning of 1507. It is known that during his sojourn in Italy, the artist kept a sort of diary, a Schreibpuchle, which unfortunately has been lost.
During his absence from Nuremberg, his wife, Agnes, and his mother, Barbara, were to sell his woodcuts and engravings, one at the Frankfurt fair, the other in Nuremberg.
In the spring, Durer returned to Nuremberg, passing through Augsburg. He hired first Hans Suess from Kulmbach, then Hans Baldung from Strasbourg, and last, Hans Schaufelein from Nordlingen as assistants in his workshop. Lorenz Behaim read his horoscope (Rupprich, 1956).
Durer bought a house in Tiergartnertor, since then known as "Durer's House." The artist was elected Genannter by the council of the city.
Emperor Maximilian arrived in Nuremberg 4 February. With the assistance of other artists, Durer began to plan the Triumphal Arch of Maximilian—a monumental woodcut consisting of 192 panels—almost three and a half meters high and about three meters wide. He executed other works for the emperor as well, which assured him a lifelong annuity of 100 florins.
During the summer, Durer went, along with a delegation of ambassadors from his city, to Augsburg to participate in the Diet.
Maximilian I died 12 January. At the end of April, Durer went to Zurich with Willibald Pirckheimer and Martin Tucher on a diplomatic mission.
Angling to have his 100-florin annuity confirmed by the successor of Maximilian I, Charles V, Durer started off with his wife and maidservant to the Netherlands 12 July. During the journey, he stayed in Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Mechlin, and Aachen. He participated in the coronation of the new emperor, and went to Zeeland, where he probably caught malaria.
In August, after going through Louvain, Aachen, and Cologne—where his diary breaks off—Durer returned to Nuremberg.
Durer's first theoretical work is published, Die Underweisung der Messung, a treatise on geometry that he dedicates to his friend Willibald Pirckheimer.
The publication of his treatise on the fortifications of the city, castles, and small cities, Etliche underricht zu befes-tigung der Stett, Schlosz und flecken.
Durer dies 6 April, shortly after turning fifty-seven years old. He is buried in the Frey family tomb, in Saint John's cemetery; the following day, the corpse is exhumed to execute a death mask. A lock of hair is cut off, of which the painter Hans Baldung Grien took possession, and that is now kept in the Fine Arts Academy in Vienna. The Vier Bucher von menschlicher Proportion (Four books on the proportions of the human body) are published, which in the following years are published in Latin, French, and Italian.

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